Alberta cuts wildfire suppression budget by $15 million

The cuts mean air tanker contracts end on August 16.

Air Spray executives
Ravi Saip and Paul Lane in front of one of their Electras at Chico, California, on March 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBCnews:

With wildfires already spreading in Alberta, one air tanker company is raising the alarm on cuts to the province’s fire suppression budget.
Paul Lane, the vice president of Air Spray, said the company’s contract was cut by 25 per cent in the recent budget.

“The province has reduced the operating contracts, for not just us but the other air tanker operator, from 123 days to 93 days,” he said.

“Effectively that will mean that all the air tanker assets in Alberta will come up contract by August 16. The province has no guarantee of availability after that period of those air tanker assets.”

The province reduced the overall wildfire suppression budget by about $15 million.

Premier Rachel Notley said the budget reflects base levels of funding and that emergency funds will kick in if needed for more fire suppression.

“All that happened is a high level of expenditure engaged last year because of the high level of fires was reduced back to the normal amount,” she said. ..

Conair to train in local RJ85 simulator

Conair pilots will use an RJ85 flight simulator that will display forest fires on the ground.

RJ85 at La Grande
An RJ85 at La Grande, OR, July, 2015. Photo by Josh Annas.

Conair has converted several Avro RJ85 airlines into air tankers by adding an external fire retardant tank holding 3,000 gallons. In order to train in a flight simulator the pilots went to Switzerland.

The RJ85 is a variant of the BAe-146, with an 8-foot longer fuselage and more efficient engines. Until air tanker companies in the United States and Canada started converting the two models a few years ago, none have been operated in North America for quite some time, so there was no need for simulators.

Neptune has sent their BAe-146 pilots to train with simulators in the United Kingdom while Minden, when they were working on a BAe-146, had their personnel travel to Australia. But starting in 2017 Conair pilots will be able to train near their own facilities in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

On February 19, Conair announced that they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CAE to develop a Wildfire Training and Simulation Centre in Abbotsford.

Under the terms of the MOU, CAE will build an Avro RJ85 full-flight simulator qualified to Level D, the highest qualification for flight simulators. Conair will procure long-term pilot training services from CAE to train their pilots who fly the RJ85.

In addition to the training program for RJ85 aerial firefighting pilots, CAE expects the Wildfire Training and Simulation Centre to be part of a distributed simulation network that connects wildfire training and coordination centers throughout Canada for purposes of conducting simulation-based mission rehearsal for wildfire response.

“Conair is pleased to be partnering with CAE to establish a world-class training centre, which will be another great example of the aerospace and wildfire innovations being developed here in British Columbia,” said Barry Marsden, Chief Executive Officer of Conair.  “We are a leading provider of aerial fire control products and services, and as a leader we need our people to be highly skilled and trained.  The new Wildfire Training and Simulation Centre will contribute to the preparation and readiness of our pilots and other professionals.”

Northwest Territories to buy 8 single engine air tankers

AT-802F
Air Tractor 802-F. Air Tractor photo.

The Northwest Territorial government has ordered $26 million worth of single engine air tankers, an acquisition that will add new eight Air Tractor 802 Firebosses to their fleet.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBC News:

…This is the first time the territorial government has bought new water bombers, which are used to fight fires. It inherited the current fleet of Canadair C-215s, which were introduced in 1969, from the federal government for $1.
The minister of environment and natural resources, Wally Schumann, says it makes more sense to buy the new Air Tractor 802 Fireboss aircraft than to upgrade the old fleet.

“I think the cost of doing that, from everything I’ve seen, would have been four times or five times the cost of purchasing these new Firebosses,” he said.

The government plans to issue a request for proposals this spring for the operation and maintenance of the fleet.

It could have asked contractors to provide a fleet of aircraft as well as operate and maintain them, but Schumann says many northern companies would not have been able to bid on it.

“The biggest benefit of us, the GNWT, owning a fleet of aircraft is the larger chance of Northern aviation companies to participate in the operation of the tanker based fleet,” Schumann said…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Doug.

Estevan, Saskatchewan to be new air tanker base

The airport at Estevan, Saskatchewan will be set up as a temporary air tanker base for Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment’s firefighting aircraft.

Estevan map

Located 4 miles north of Estevan and 14 miles north of the US/Canadian border, it will be used for fires in the southern parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and in North Dakota and Montana.

The airport, officially known as Estevan Regional Aerodrome (CYEN), recently had its runways resurfaced; the longest one is 5,003 feet.

The plan is to bring in two or three 5,000-gallon tanks and a retardant mixing system with pumps to reload air tankers.

The facility will be evaluated over the next two years to determine if the ministry will make the base permanent. If they do, they will invest more money into infrastructure.

Saskatchewan recently joined the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact, a bilateral agreement that facilitates the sharing of ground and air firefighting resources among six U.S. states and Saskatchewan. In September the Canadian province sent two aircraft, a CV-580A air tanker and a Turbo Commander Bird Dog, on site visits to Estevan and Pierre, South Dakota to check out the airports and meet the local fire personnel.

Estevan airport
Estevan airport, four miles north of Estevan, Saskatchewan.

Bombardier closes CL-415 air tanker plant in Ontario, Canada

Alberta air tanker 202
Alberta air tanker 202. Photo by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

Bombardier has shut down their plant in North Bay, Ontario where they have been finishing the work of building CL-415 air tankers after the aircraft have been assembled in Montreal. The CL-415 and its predecessor, the CL-215, are among the very few purpose-built air tankers, designed from the wheels up to very specifically drop water on fires. Most air tankers used today have been converted after being discarded by the military and passenger airlines.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Bay Today:

…Isabelle Gauthier, the Director of Communications for Bombardier Commercial Aircraft confirmed to BayToday that, “We will not be renewing our lease going forward” at North Bay’s Jack Garland Airport.
The lease ends in April 2016, but Bombardier was required to give at least 90 days notice Gauthier said.

“There are currently no aircraft in production,” explained Gauthier,”It didn’t make any business sense to continue.”

North Bay’s facility was for finishing the aircraft after assembly in Montreal, and three had been completed this year but no more were on the horizon.

“We need sales,” said Gauthier. “We need commitment to continue production.”

She said if sales are made, they may attempt to reopen the North Bay facility but “it’s not like turning on a light switch”.

“Activities are continuing for more sales”, she said, and Bombardier is “keeping the door open” to further involvement in North Bay if there are significant sales of the aircraft in future.

The video below was shot at Santa Fe Dam in January, 2014 where two CL-415s under contract with Los Angeles County were scooping water while working the Colby Fire at Glendora, California, east of Los Angeles.

13 firefighting aircraft grounded by a drone

On August 16 firefighting aircraft were forced to halt air operations on the Testalinden Creek and Wilson’s Mountain Road wildfires in British Columbia due to an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (or drone) flying over the fire.

Eight helicopters and five fixed-wing aircraft that were supporting firefighters were grounded, significantly impacting fire suppression operations.

The Oliver RCMP is currently working with the BC Wildfire Service in relation to this incident.

Martin Mars drops on a fire near Skutz Falls, Vancouver Island

(Originally published at 8:52 a.m. PT, July 29, 2015)

Martin Mars on Skutz Falls Fire
Martin Mars on Skutz Falls Fire. Screen shot from video by Jody Kerrone.

This image of the Martin Mars dropping on a fire near Skutz Falls on Vancouver Island yesterday is a screen shot from a video by Jody Kerrone. We are unable to embed the video here, but you can see it on the Wildfire Today Facebook page.

The Martin Mars was preceded by a jet-powered lead plane, or Bird Dog as they are called in Canada.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service reports that the fire is 10 hectares (25 acres). Two helicopters were also working on the fire.

As far as we know, this is the second fire the Martin Mars has dropped on in the last couple of weeks.

****

(UPDATE at 1:46 p.m. PT, July 29, 2015)

Wednesday afternoon Coulson Flying Tankers released the following information about the mission:

****

“Last night the Mars made a total of six drops on the fire at Skutz Falls. The drops averaged 21,600 litres [5,706 gallons] per drop for a total of 130,000 litres [34,342 gallons] in approximately 1.5 hrs, beginning with the first scoop at 7:30 p.m.

The turn times averaged 15 minutes per drop which was excellent with some 8 minutes drop cycles. As there were other aircraft working on the fire we had to allow them the time to get clear prior to each drop. It was an example of great teamwork, working in tandem with the other aircraft.

The current fuel load allows the Mars to stay airborne for approximately 6 hours prior to refueling. With this much fuel on board at the beginning of the scooping cycles we have to scoop a few smaller loads until we burn enough fuel to get up to maximum load capacity.

Every aircraft is the same with regard to maximum fuel load. All aircraft have to balance the amount of fuel on board and take into account the outside air temperature as well as working altitude and then factor in the load capabilities. However for the most part smaller aircraft carry only enough fuel for a maximum of 3 hours.”